The importance of storytelling and strategic narrative in your career.
People who know me well know that I do two main jobs. I divide my time between consulting on human capital and coaching applicants on applications to top-tiered universities around the world. Storytelling is a critical part of both lines of work and can shapre your future. Let me tell you more…
My clients range from global corporate giants to individuals. Some of these people have backgrounds in mainstream corporate and others in entrepreneurship. Some are even in industries I did not know existed.
Sometimes I am dealing with a lawyer, an investment banker or a management consultant. Other times it is with an entrepreneur or an academic. What always strikes me as interesting is how many people see their own story as cliché.
Storytelling and Strategic Narrative
Storytelling and strategic narrative are powerful tools for anyone in business. They are especially important for leaders because they help inspire others to follow. The same goes for people navigating up the corporate ladder. If you are looking to standout in job applications or university selection processes, a great narrative is a must.
While forming your narrative can take time, it is my belief we all have a unique story. You have to be prepared to write it, polish it and evolve it. It is an interactive process that never stops.
Here are some basic tips for identifying your own unique and emotionally capturing story. You can use this to enhance your personal brand and capture the attention of others.
ONE: Be Proud of Your Roots
In a world that is continuously more diverse, I encourage clients to celebrate their roots and what makes them unique. It doesn’t matter if you come from a background of privilege or of economic hardship. There is always something about your story that others will be able to connect with.
Your past can be a powerful tool to help other people understand you.
Our limbic brain means we resonate with emotions. So, connecting with your background on an emotional level can help inspire others.
The key is to find something that makes people want to continue to the end of your story.
TWO: Celebrate Successes
Don’t be afraid to celebrate your successes. Many people love a winner in a story. We often like to imagine ourselves as that winner, so it creates a powerful bond. It is why we love to read autobiographies. We are often curious about the secret success formula others had?
Equally, don’t be arrogant and blow your trumpet too loud. Finding a balance is vital. I was stunned once when I spoke to an engineer who was in a recruitment assessment centre for a large tech firm. I asked him what was his greatest achievement and he said he didn’t have any.
Only when I probed further did I find out something amazing. He had developed an app after the Mexico earthquake in September 2018. This app helped hundreds of people who had lost their homes to find shared accommodation. This seemed small to him, but it was so powerful to many.
If you celebrate your success in the right way, people will follow.
Just think of TED talks. Unique stories with incredible messages.
THREE: Embrace Your Failures. Humility is King!
Don’t fear your failures, we all have them (I hope). Often things we failed at are what define us the most in life. The ability to admit them is immensely powerful. In August this year, I had the pleasure of reading HBS’s Francesca Gino’s Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life. (See my blog on Humility)
One anecdote I resonated strongly with was about a university professor who prepared a CV of his failures. He was fed up with being placed on a pedestal by students due to his prestigious job title. Such humility strongly endeared him to his students who were able to feel empathy. This is essential when we want to foster understanding and connection in our audience.
Humility is King!
FOUR: Find Concrete Moments
Certain moments in our life define us, so it is important to avoid cliché. When you are building a person story and brand, try to think past more than empty slogans and phrases. Anyone can say they are hardworking, successful and intelligence, but few can prove it.
When defining your story, ensure you think of actual events in your life. Think of times when you did something concrete / real.
If you are writing a speech, use real moments. If you are writing an applications essay, provide real examples. If you are interviewing for a job, support your story with real events. Powerful narratives are often based in vivid, real-life moments that others can visualize.
Write Your Story
I remember writing my own story for the first time. It appeared to me as dull and lacking emotion. I revised it a few times and got some advice from others. I told the story again and again, each time watching my audience’s reaction.
The result I have now I am pretty proud of, but I know my story will continue to evolve. I also know that the way I tell that story will depend on who is listening. Regardless, I know that what is important is that my story is important. It may not be the story everyone wants to hear, but it is one that can great a connection with others.
If you are a business leader, prospective student or anything else, I encourage you to develop your strategic narrative. Learn storytelling skills and you will find a way to make a powerful connection with others.